Steven R. April 23, 2019
Labor practices in the video game industry have been heavily scrutinized in recent months, and the latest company to come under a magnifying glass is Epic Games.
The publisher behind the wildly popular Fortnite has done excellent work keeping the battle royale fresh since its launch in 2017. According to a report at Polygon, that comes at the expense of its development team, who feel pressured into working for unhealthy lengths of time for months on end. That has resulted in a “culture of fear” in the studio behind the world’s most popular game.
“I work an average 70 hours a week. There’s probably at least 50 or even 100 other people at Epic working those hours,” a source said to Polygon. “I know people who pull 100-hour weeks. The company gives us unlimited time off, but it’s almost impossible to take the time.”
The primary issue for Fortnite’s development team is the frequent updates to the game. While a blockbuster title like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will launch, receive a few patches and then have its team move on to other projects, the crew behind Fortnite are on a constant grind to add more to the game.
The title releases substantial updates on an almost weekly basis with new weapons, tweaks to the map, limited time game modes, and fresh cosmetics arriving regularly. That has helped keep Fortnite interesting even for longtime players, as there is always something new to experiment with or somewhere uncharted to explore. It has also taken a toll on Epic employees and contractors who are juggling the endless tasks of fixing the latest updates and shipping the next one out on a week in, week out basis.
Though Epic policies don’t officially require its workers to shoulder those excessive hours, employees still feel pressured to do so and believe their standing with the company is damaged by not clocking huge amounts of overtime. Contractors who don’t meet those expectations are fired or do not have their contracts renewed.
According to Polygon, these issues are not a company-wide problem at Epic, with one source stating that they hadn’t experienced such troubles. Epic has also made moves to relieve the team of some of its burdens by adding dozens of new employees and outsourcing work to other developers. The trouble is that the Fortnite team is still constantly scrambling to have everything ready for the next update.
Though Epic continues to grow and Fortnite is doing well, the horror stories detailed in the report are very similar to those that have come out of other game studios.
In 2018, adventure game studio Telltale Games abruptly shut down with former employees discussing agonizing work weeks. More recently, Kotaku reported widespread problems at Bioware during the development of Anthem and Mass Effect: Andromeda, including “stress casualties” where employees suffered emotional breakdowns that required weeks to recover from. These and other accounts have brought to light ugly labor practices across the entire video game industry.
Many have called for changes to be made as a result, particularly when it comes to labor organizing. But with those changes still far off, many more are set to fall victim to “the crunch.”